By Anthony Stavrinos





Introducing Faisal Faisal – he’s just turned 25,
completed business studies in Australia and is vying to become the
first ever Iraqi to compete at the Winter Olympics, in Torino next
February.

Faisal’s quest to represent Iraq at the Winter Olympics began after he
watched the 1998 Nagano Games on television and, disappointed at the
absence of an Iraqi flag at the Opening Ceremony, vowed to represent his country.

Since then he’s
encountered numerous setbacks when he unsuccessfully tried his hand at
a number of winter sports, including alpine skiing. Faisal claimed one Australian sports administrator promised training
and accommodation at a Thredbo skiing facility, but when he arrived he
found that because he was a beginner, he was not welcome in classes and
had no place to stay.

He then decided to pin his hopes on Skeleton – a sport in which competitors
drive a sled in a head-first position down
an ice track at high
speed – but he
says Australian officials declined to help. He got some help from Poland, and then – in Faisal’s biggest coup to date – from
the USA, through the United States Olympic Committee
(USOC).

The USOC invited him to train and compete in America Cup Skeleton
tournament – where Faisal put in a better than expected performance coming 30th out of 37 – after he contacted the US Bobsled
and Skeleton Federation.

Last weekend Faisal departed
for Salt Lake City for training. To qualify for Torino he needs to compete in the Challenge Cup
tournament in Germany next January and to finish with an individual
ranking in the top eight. But how he will get there has not yet been resolved, with Iraq’s
national Olympic committee still seeking affiliation with
Skeleton’s world governing body, the FIBT.

Frustrated by politics and administrative incompetence, Faisal has issued a personal appeal to Olympics boss Jacques Rogge.

“Mr Rogge, this is not about one individual athlete’s dream and
struggle to participate in the Olympic Games,” he said. “This is about my nation’s struggle and our desire to take new steps to
develop, despite the setbacks we have suffered through war and
international isolation.

“I believe you would be among the first to understand the significance
of Iraq’s participation in the next major Olympics event. Iraq’s sport
and Olympics community need your helping hand now.”

Faisal shuns talk of a wildcard entry to compete in Torino next
February because he wants to be included on merit. In an effort to
rally support he’s engaged Australian PR man Nicholas Karandonis and so
far he’s appeared on Seven news and Nine’s Today show.